Tuesday, April 7, 2015


"I did it again. I know what's good for me to do and I don't do it or I do it for a little while,but can't sustain it. It doesn't make any sense to me why this always happens." This is usually said by my patients with a mixture of frustration, confusion and self-anger. Of course it doesn't make any rational sense to them. Why, even with the best intentions and firm resolve, they are unable to stay with their exercise program, eat the right foods, choose the right partners, not return to their addictions etc. It is so frustrating. And insidious.
My patients want to know why. I usually ask "What comes into your mind about why this might happen?" After he/she gives several possible reasons, most of which are usually accurate, I add "Those reasons are probably correct. And, for most of the people that I've worked with there is usually something else, something unconscious, a part of their personality that I'll call The Saboteur. This is a part of your personality that lurks in the shadows out of your awareness. His/her main function is to undermine your happiness. He loves to be in the dark - that increases his power. So the first step is to bring him out into the light and get to know him, how he works, where did he come from." Of course, it doesn't make any rational sense that we would undermine our own happiness. "Yet", I continue," at some level of your consciousness it makes emotional sense. We need to find out what are the reasons for his/her existence. How did he become so secretly powerful in your personality?" Most of my patients feel a mixture of perplexed and intrigued. It does make sense to them however, that they may be sabotaging themselves because they have witnessed the consistent pattern.
I suggest to them that usually the personal historical roots of The Saboteur are in their childhood years wherein, at some deep level they were made to feel unloveable, unworthy of having a good life. It is not feasible within the limitations of a brief blog entry to discuss all the possible derivations. A few examples may be helpful: one patient was told on multiple occasions by her mother,"I wish that I never gave birth to you"; another patient, in a family of high achievers, was told that he was a "fuck-up" and a source of family shame; another always had a sense that no matter what he dud was "not good enough". One aspect of the therapy is to uncover the roots of this pattern, to look at it with compassion, and to begin to question the validity of this inner narrative.
Another aspect of the work is to use imagery. I tell my patients,"The Saboteur loves to be in the dark out of your conscious awareness, to work in the shadows. That increases his power, his effectiveness. What we want to do is to bring him out into the light, to name him, to develop an image of him." Once they understand how insidious and effective The Saboteur is in consistently undermining their happiness most patients like this part of the work. It makes the perplexing pattern less mysterious, reduces the sense of helplessness and introduces an element of playful creativity. One patient calls this sabotaging part of himself "the little fucker" and imagines him as a gremlin-like creature who stands in the corner of the room and who sometimes has a demonic expression and at other times an impish gleam. Another patient has named him simply "The Voice" and imagines him as a heavy-metal rock star who in a gravelly voice sings a particular song whenever he is trying to get my patient to do something that is not in his best interests. Another person uses her artistic ability to draw pictures of her saboteur and brings them into the office. It is interesting to witness the evolution of these drawings as her saboteur diminishes in power. During sessions with each of these patients whenever I notice an example of the undermining pattern I will say,"It looks like 'the little fucker' or 'The Voice' showed up and ask my patient to imagine what they may want to say or do to their saboteur at that moment. Gradually my patients are able to do that increasingly outside of the sessions and reduce the impact of that part of their personalities.

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